Mérida, January 7th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – In response to mixed signals coming out of Washington, Venezuela’s newly elected National Assembly president, Fernando Soto Rojas, reaffirmed on Thursday that U.S. Ambassador nominee Larry Palmer will under no condition be allowed to serve in Venezuela. Meanwhile, U.S. government officials from both the Democratic and Republican parties gave signs that a harder line against Venezuela is on the horizon for 2011.
The Washington Post on Monday reported that a new candidate for U.S. ambassador to Venezuela was under consideration, citing comments made by U.S. State Department spokesman Phil Crowley affirming that Larry Palmer’s nomination “formally expired with the end of the last Congress.”
“We will have to renominate an ambassador candidate,” said Crowley.
Describing Washington’s plans to renominate an ambassador as “a good sign,” President Hugo Chávez suggested on Tuesday that filmmaker Oliver Stone, actor Sean Penn, or linguist and critic of U.S. foreign policy Noam Chomsky would make good U.S. ambassadors to Venezuela because, he affirmed, Venezuela “has many friends there [in the U.S.]”
Chávez also affirmed that during his brief encounter with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Brazil recently, the two discussed the ambassador issue. “I told her that if they rectify, then we would also rectify. And I repeated it,” he said. “Then she told me something that I will keep private, and I told her something that she will reserve as well. But all towards facilitating the process,” Chávez concluded.
On Wednesday, however, Crowley asserted that the Obama administration maintains Palmer as its ambassador nominee. “There have been suggestions,” said Crowley, “particularly suggestions by President Chávez that we are looking for another candidate and the answer is that we’re not looking for another candidate.”
On Thursday, Fernando Soto Rojas, long-time revolutionary activist and recently elected president of the National Assembly for the 2011 – 2016 period responded to Crowley’s statements, affirming that under no condition would Palmer be allowed to serve in Venezuela since he had disrespected Venezuela’s institutions.
“We (in Venezuela) can do a thousand things, but there is one thing that is priceless, and this is our dignity,” he affirmed. “We have to keep reaffirming our position in all spaces of public administration, that is, that (Mr. Palmer) can not come to this country,” said Soto Rojas.
Palmer was first nominated by the Obama administration in mid-2010 – almost a year after former Ambassador Patrick Duddy left Caracas – but statements made by Palmer prior to and during his Senate confirmation hearings led the Venezuelan government to reject his nomination. In late December, Venezuelan authorities presented the U.S. Embassy in Caracas with a formal note of protest regarding Palmer´s candidacy. Days later, the U.S. revoked the visa of Bernardo Alvarez Herrera, Venezuelan ambassador to the U.S.
New U.S. Congress to Take Harder Line on Venezuela
Recent statements by U.S. officials show that the Obama administration is likely to continue its current policy toward Venezuela in 2011, while the now Republican-dominated U.S. House of Representatives will likely take a harder line.
Both the State Department and conservative congressional leaders attacked the recent passage of an enabling law in Venezuela that provides President Hugo Chávez with legislative authority on all matters relating to the country’s recovery from record-setting storms that left 130,000 people homeless in December.
During a keynote address at the Washington-based Brookings Institution on Thursday, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Arturo Valenzuela called the recent passage of an enabling law in Venezuela an “undemocratic measure” that, “violates the shared values enshrined in the Inter American Democratic Charter” of the Organization of American States (OAS).
Valenzuela is not a Republican; he served in the Clinton Administration throughout the 1990’s and in the Obama Administration since 2009. But his accusations of an “undemocratic” Venezuela omitted that Article 203 of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (1999) – approved by over 70% of Venezuelans in a popular vote – allows for such enabling laws. Instead, he affirmed only that the U.S. is “committed to looking for ways to more effectively implement the (OAS) Charter as a safeguard of core democratic principles.”
Republican Congressman Connie Mack of Florida said on Thursday that one of his goals as chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere was to get Venezuela placed on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
“With freedom and free markets under continuous assault by thugocrats like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and the Castro brothers in Cuba, the United States must remain committed to countering the influence of these socialist leaders in the region,” said Mack during his late-December acceptance speech as chairman.
Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen agreed, affirming that “Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and Rafael Correa are all placing democracy under siege in Latin America, and I am happy to have Connie standing up to their tyrannical advances as Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.”
In its January 2011 “Latin American Action Agenda for the New Congress,” the American Enterprise Institute called for the U.S. Congress to “subject Venezuela’s oil-dependent regime to crippling sanctions unless it changes its aggressive, illegal activities.” Written by Roger Noriega – a former State Department official who called the April 2002 coup against Chávez a “popular rebellion” – the document affirms that “US sanctions against PDVSA would have a devastating impact on the country” and that, as a result, “Venezuelans across the board – honest and otherwise – may be moved to pull the plug on Chávez’s provocative policies.”
According to a BBC report published on Friday, unnamed sources within the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. Congress affirmed that there is not enough consensus in the region of the Americas to prevent a U.S. initiative targeting Venezuela’s Chávez at the Organization of American States from being viewed as a “new imperialist aggression.”
Venezuelan diplomats have also offered their analyses of the situation. In response to Crowley’s recent statements, the Chávez administration issued a statement affirming that the State Department’s position ratifies “the historic line of interventionism and aggression against the Venezuelan people, their institutions and democracy.”
On December 12th, Venezuelan ambassador to the U.S., Bernardo Alvarez Herrera, wrote that “the recent midterm election in the United States didn’t just put the Republican Party in a greater position of influence over U.S. domestic policy – it also gave a small section of southern Florida significant power over the country's diplomacy toward Latin America.”
According to an anonymous Venezuelan source who partook in the brief Chávez-Clinton encounter in Brazil recently, “there is a Republican plan to break relations, but that is not our plan. One must always place above all else the national interest.”